Read Beauty So Rare, A (A Belmont Mansion Novel Book #2) Online

Authors: Tamera Alexander

Tags: #FIC027050, #Orphans—Tennessee—History—19th century—Fiction, #FIC042030, #Architects—Tennessee—History—19th century—Fiction, #Women and war—History—Civil War (1861–1865)—Fiction, #Upper class—Tennessee—Fiction, #Southern States—History—1865–1877—Fiction, #FIC042040

Beauty So Rare, A (A Belmont Mansion Novel Book #2)

BOOK: Beauty So Rare, A (A Belmont Mansion Novel Book #2)
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© 2014 by Tamera Alexander

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

www
.
bakerpublishinggroup
.
com

Ebook edition created 2014

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6349-0

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, King James Version.

This is a work of historical reconstruction; the appearances of certain historical figures are therefore inevitable. All other characters, however, are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Cover design by Jennifer Parker

Cover photography by Mike Habermann Photography, LLC

Author represented by The Natasha Kern Literary Agency

Praise for Tamera’s Novels

“To put it simply: This book is a full-on HIT.”


USA Today
about
A Lasting Impression

“Tamera Alexander has once again written a novel rich in storytelling and history, peopled with living, breathing characters who made me laugh, and cry. Better than sweet tea on a veranda,
A Lasting Impression
is a winner. I want to live at Belmont!”

—Francine Rivers,
New
York Times
best-selling author of
Redeeming Love
, about
A
Lasting Impression


Tamera Alexander crafts a pleasing and well-written romance that is filled with adventure and intrigue. Subtly weaving in the main character’s steadfast faith in God, the book is full of faith and full of life. Readers who enjoy romantic novels but also want to feel inspired will definitely enjoy this satisfying read.”


Publishers Weekly
about
Within My Heart

“Tamera Alexander paints vivid scenes, not with oils on canvas but with words on the page, as she sweeps us away to the cafés of New Orleans and the hills of Tennessee. In Claire Laurent we find a true artist, ever doubting her talents, ever questioning her calling. And in Sutton Monroe we meet a hero whose bright mind is eclipsed only by his tender heart. A lovely story, sure to please anyone who treasures a good romance.”

—Liz Curtis Higgs,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Mine Is the Night,
about
A Lasting
Impression


Rich in period details and set in Nashville’s historic Belmont Mansion, this historical romance by RITA and Christy Award winner Alexander is a sure bet . . .”


Library Journal
Review
about
A Lasting Impression

For my readers, who not only take these journeys with me, but who add such joy and beauty to my own.

“It is only with the heart that one can see clearly, for the most essential things are invisible to the eye.”

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Preface

M
ost of the novel you’re about to read is fictional, though there is plenty of real history and people woven throughout. For instance, there really is a Belmont Mansion in Nashville, built in 1853, that still stands today and that welcomes your visit. And Mrs. Adelicia Acklen, a character in the novel, is the dynamic, born-before-her-time woman who lived there.

In addition to Adelicia Acklen, many of the other characters in the novel were inspired by real people who lived during that time—people who lived and worked at Belmont. But the characters’ personalities and actions as depicted in this story are of my own imagination and should be construed as such.

The first time I stepped across the threshold of Belmont Mansion and learned about Adelicia and her extraordinary personality and life, I knew I wanted to write stories that included her, her magnificent Belmont estate, and this crucial time in our nation’s history. I invite you to join me as we open the door to history once again and step into another time and place.

Thank you
for entrusting your time to me. It’s a weighty investment, one I treasure, and that I never take for granted.

Tamera

Prologue

D
ECEMBER
15, 1864
A C
ONFEDERATE
FIELD
HOSPITAL
SOME
DISTANCE
FROM
THE
LINE
OF
BATTLE
N
ASHVILLE
, T
ENNESSEE

E
leanor Braddock startled when the soldier grabbed her hand, his grip surprisingly strong, his palm slicked with blood, sweat, and war. With eyes clenched tight, he held on to her as though she were the last person on earth. Which for him . . . she was.

From habit, she searched the left pocket of the soldier’s uniform for his name, but the material—bloodied gray and soaked clean through—had been ripped to shreds by a cannon blast, much like the rest of him. She was grateful he’d been unconscious moments earlier when the surgeon examined him. He’d been spared the brusque shake of the doctor’s head.

“Nurse . . .”

His gaze sought hers, and against the distant barrage of rifle and cannon fire, Eleanor steeled herself for the question she knew was forthcoming. No matter how many times she was forced to answer, it never got any easier to tell a man he was about to die.

And neither did watching it happen.

“Yes?” she said softly, not bothering to correct his misassumption about her medical training, or lack thereof.

“Could you tell me—” He coughed, and his bearded chin shook
from the cold or pain, likely both. A gurgling sound bubbled up inside his throat. “Did we . . . take the hill?”

Surprised that he asked of the battle and not his life, and touched by the strained hope behind his query, a tender knot formed in Eleanor’s throat. “Yes,” she answered without hesitation, having not the least clue which army held the upper hand in the battle. All she knew was that countless men—fathers, sons, husbands . . .
brothers
—were being slaughtered a short distance away. And this man deserved to die with a semblance of peace, believing that his life had counted for something. “Yes . . . you did.” She tried to smile. “And General Lee will be so pleased.”

Traces of pride but mostly relief shone in the soldier’s eyes before they drifted shut. He fought for breath, each one exacting a price, and she prayed that his struggle would soon cease. But she’d seen men with similar wounds linger for hours, drifting in and out of agony.

He was no mere youth—into his thirties, at least—and his feet overhung the cot by several inches. Both boots were worn clean through at the toe. She’d detected the hint of a brogue in his voice, an accent from far away, something she’d always admired.

She studied him, wondering what his life had been like before the war, and how he’d come to be on a bleak battlefield in the middle of Tennessee. His cheekbones were especially prominent, and she wished she had some of the beef tea she’d made for the men last evening, as she did nearly every night. No matter that she watered it down to stretch as far as possible, the men always made quick work of it.
“We ain’t tasted nothin’ this
good in months,”
they’d say, draining their cups.

She’d always enjoyed cooking, but seeing her patients eat, even that little bit, did her heart good in ways she couldn’t have imagined before serving injured and dying men.

She shifted her weight, and the soldier’s grip tightened.

He grimaced and clenched his jaw, moaning, as though determined not to cry out like the others.

Empty bottles of laudanum on a nearby table caught her eye. She wished she had something to give him, but the last of the pain medication, including the morphine, chloroform, and ether, had been administered that morning, prior to them learning that the expected shipment of medical supplies wouldn’t be arriving—thanks to the Federal Army.

She could make sense of the interception of ammunition and currency, or even provisions—but medical supplies? Even war should have certain rules.

Cannon fire thundered in the distance, and an icy wind knifed the canvased confines of the hospital tent. The moans and cries of the wounded and dying rent the air, and Eleanor shivered against the chill of it all. Though it was absurd, she was certain she could feel the earth groaning, straining beneath her feet, wondering, as she did, how much longer this insanity could continue. Surely, this was what hell was like. . . .

And yet, as she thought of the dark calamity of madness occurring just over the hill, she knew she’d only seen the outskirts of hell in these tents.

How had she lived for twenty-six years without realizing how precious and fragile life was? And how tenuous its peace. She’d never considered whether she’d squandered her life to that point. But when contrasting the experiences of her whole life with what she’d seen and done in recent months . . .
squandered
seemed a painfully appropriate term.

Her focus moved down the row of soldiers lining both sides of the tent. How many more would die before the two sides determined enough blood had been spilled?

When she’d first read the advertisement in the Murfreesboro newspaper soliciting “plain-looking women between the ages of 35 and 50” to volunteer in field hospitals and surgical tents, she’d wondered whether her age would prevent them from accepting her. But with the need for volunteers so great—and the first requirement met without a doubt—she’d quickly been accepted.

The only other point that had drawn a raised brow from her was the line “no specialized medical training or experience required.” But it hadn’t taken her long to understand why, and to realize that she’d grossly underestimated the task for which she’d volunteered.

She’d only known that after seeing her brother enlist along with most of her male relatives and friends, she couldn’t sit at home and do nothing—especially with their aging father championing the Confederacy as he did.

She briefly closed her eyes, fatigue and worry joining forces. With stinging clarity, she imagined her younger brother lying somewhere on a battlefield, wounded, cold, and alone, the precious lifeblood pouring out of him. And a chill stole through her.

If anything happened to Teddy, she didn’t know how she would bear it. Or how their father would hold up beneath the weight of such a loss. Though he possessed the physical strength of a man half his
age and at six foot four—only five inches taller than she—still stood ramrod straight, her father’s mind was slipping. Her mother’s passing, nearly a decade ago—God rest her soul—had been especially difficult for him. He’d endured a long period of grief, mourning her passing. But in the past few months Eleanor had noticed a marked change in his memory and in his ability to recall recent details.

A sudden gust of wind thrashed the tent, and for a second, Eleanor feared the force would uproot it at the stakes.

Above the distant rumble of battle, the stomp of horses’ hooves and the creak of wagon wheels announced the arrival of another ambulance.

The other two volunteers in the tent moved to assist with unloading the wounded men. Eleanor knew she needed to do the same—and would receive a reprimand from Dr. Rankin if he saw her lingering overlong with any one patient. But thinking of Teddy, of the possibility of him being somewhere like this—frightened, wounded, and alone—she couldn’t force herself to leave the soldier’s side.

Even if he were to let go of her hand—which he hadn’t.

“Most of what a person fears never comes to
fruition, Eleanor.”
Her father’s counsel returned from years past, and she knew if he were there, he would tell her not to be worried about imaginings.
“The mind
can be a deceitful thing. You must be sensible, daughter,
not given to the worrisome nature that so often befalls
your gender. Focus on what you can see, not on
what your imagination tells you is there.”

She knew from experience he was right, but her imaginings were sometimes so powerful they were hard to resist. And knowing a tiny percentage of fears actually
did
come true fed the seed of worry. Surely this makeshift hospital ward bore proof of that.

“The doc . . .” came a gruff whisper.

She looked down to see the soldier watching her again.

“Would you be knowin’ wh—” He gritted his teeth, his already pale complexion growing more so. A moment passed before he spoke. “When will he . . . be comin’ by?”

Despising her helplessness, Eleanor forced a steadiness to her voice. The training she and the other women in her group had received had been brief but clear, especially in regard to the dying.
“Don’
t ply a soldier with questions when he’s near
the end. You’re there to be a solace. And
above all, if he asks about his condition, always tell
him the truth.”
Eleanor wholeheartedly agreed with that last principle—in theory.

But theory and practice were two very different things.

“Actually . . .” She tried to frame the truth gently. “The doctor already
has been by.” She squeezed his hand. “I’m so sorry, but . . . nothing can be done.”

Slowly the soldier’s gaze narrowed. Then with effort, and a hint of disbelief, he lifted his head and peered down at his battered body. Reality forced the air from his lungs, and Eleanor gently eased his head back down.

A single tear slipped from the corner of his eye, and his shoulders began to shake. Yet he didn’t make a sound.

She wanted to tell him it was all right if he cried out, that there was no shame in it. But something kept the words from forming, told her that whispering such a thing wouldn’t be a comfort to him. And she wanted to be of comfort.

If only there were something she could give him to ease his passing, something to help cut the—

A pitcher of water and a tin cup on the tray beside the empty medicine bottles caught her eye. And an idea formed.

Swiftly, before reason could dissuade her—or her conscience could offer argument—she removed her hand from his, poured some water into the cup, and tipped an empty bottle of laudanum into it as though mixing the two. She made certain the soldier could see her—hoping no one else did—and swirled the contents of the cup, then held it to his mouth.

“Here,” she whispered, summoning a cautious tone. “But only a little. It’s mighty powerful.”

His effort to gulp the contents tugged at her heart. Gasping, he worked to swallow every drop. Too quickly, though, and he coughed some back up. She wiped the residue from his mouth and beard. The cloth came away bloodied.

“Oh, thank you, lass. Thank you,” he whispered, over and over, as though she’d given him the elixir of life.

For the longest time, he stared overhead, his breathing labored, his body racked with shakes. Eleanor stood close beside him, waiting for a telling flicker in his eyes that would reveal he recognized what she’d done. Or had tried to do.

Then gradually . . . the sharp lines of pain in his features began to relax, and to her amazement and disbelief, the tension in his body eased. How right her father had been—the mind could be a deceitful thing.

The soldier took a breath, holding his chest as he did, and emotion glazed his eyes. “I wish . . . I’d done better,” he ground out. “I w-wish that—” His voice broke, and he reached again for her hand.

“Shhh . . .” Eleanor leaned close. “It’s going to be all right.”

“No . . .” The muscles in his neck corded tight. “I need to be sayin’ this, lass . . . while I still have me breath.”

Giving him the silence he needed, she brushed the hair back from his forehead in a manner that would have felt far too intimate months earlier. But war had a way of rewriting etiquette.

“I . . . I wish . . .” Tears traced his temples. His expression grew more intent, purposeful. “I wish I’d . . . done for you . . . like I said I would, Mary girl. Like I promised . . . ’fore I left.” His sigh held longing. “Every day . . . in my mind, I been—”

He choked on a sob and reached out as though trying to touch her face, but Eleanor knew she wasn’t the woman he was seeing anymore. She cradled his hand between hers, and his tears came afresh.

“What?” she gently coaxed, seeing the pain in his features and thinking that if he stated his regret aloud, it might be lessened.

He fumbled with the hem of his coat, and when she realized his intent, she helped him pull a small bundle from his pocket. Carefully, she unwrapped it.

An embroidered handkerchief, damp with blood. A rose pressed between its folds.

“I been carryin’ this with me, my sweet Mary,” he whispered. “Just like you asked.” His lips trembled. His blue eyes smiled. “I still can’t believe you’re mine, darlin’. That you said yes . . . to the likes of me.”

Eleanor blinked, and only then did she feel the moisture on her lashes. She’d never minded the sight of blood. She’d assisted in the surgical tent, where the large wooden table ran red for days on end, and she’d watched wagon after wagon lumber away, loaded with amputated limbs. But this . . .

Listening to final whispers, to the contents of a man’s heart poured out to a stranger . . . this she couldn’t do without crying. Whoever this woman—this
Mary girl
—was, she prayed the woman knew how well she was loved.

Or . . . had been loved.

Not doubting herself at all now, Eleanor leaned close so he would be sure to hear her. “I’m
proud
to be yours, and always have been,” she said, trying to imagine what it would be like to be so loved by a man. But she couldn’t.

She looked again at the handkerchief, thinking about how brief life truly was and about all the things she hadn’t yet done—she’d never been kissed, much less married or given birth to children. She’d never
traveled outside Tennessee or seen the ocean’s tide roll in and out. Growing up, she’d never held a boy’s hand, other than Teddy’s, and she’d never lain awake all night beneath the stars to watch the sun’s journey begin again. Countless other
never had
s flitted through her mind, and yet . . . how distant and unimportant they seemed now, in comparison to the world closing in around them.

BOOK: Beauty So Rare, A (A Belmont Mansion Novel Book #2)
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